by Lang Whitaker

The NBA is playing a heckuva trick on us. Here we just finish a new issue of SLAM, getting it all out the door tonight, and we’re in the midst of a serious NBA run in NYC. The Knicks and Nets are on concurrent long homestands, which means a lot of late nights for the next week or so.

So tonight Sam and I went out to Jersey to see the Dallas Mavericks come to town. (No, we didn’t go to the NBA store to see Gilbert Arenas, regardless of the lies on that damn DC Sports Bog!)

Russ and Jake have become famous for their 8,000,000-word brokeback game recaps, and Sam and I don’t want to bite their steez, so here’s a few things I saw/heard at the Nets/Mavs game last night…

1) In Dallas locker room pregame, Sagana Diop was holding court, talking to anyone and everyone. He even came over and gave me a hug, and I barely know him. Jason Terry grabbed the new copy of SLAM and went through it meticulously, from back to front, like a lot of people seem to do. (You guys understand that we plan it to be read from front to back, right?)

Later, Diop was sitting in someone else’s locker with a bunch of Gucci shopping backs stuffed behind it. I asked Sagana if he’d been shopping at Gucci, and he said the bags were Erick Dampier’s and that he couldn’t really afford to shop at Gucci. “I need to go down to Canal St., man,” Diop noted, showing a surprisingly accurate understanding of where the best fakes in New York are sold. When I told Diop that I bet he could afford to go to the real Gucci store, he laughed and said, “But if you’re an NBA player, you can have the fake stuff and everyone thinks it’s real.” Hmm…someone check his tags.
From the locker room door, someone yelled “Haaaa!” Everyone spun around to see Dirk Nowitzki stalk into the locker room. He wandered around aimlessly and, surveying the spare visitor’s locker room in Jersey, muttered something about “this sh*thole.”

One Mav picked up SLAM and found an ad featuring an NBA player, and he held it up and pronounced, “This is the cheesiest thing I’ve ever seen.”

2) Because I promised Nets PR guru/PA announcer/occasional blogger Gary Sussman, here’s my media room dinner review: Looked above average, including herbed chicken breasts, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables and salad. They get a B+ for planning and looks, but that chicken was so over-cooked it was like trying to eat my laptop. (Luckily, I was tipped off about this by a newly-minted member of the Nets staff before I nearly snapped my knife sawing through it.) Salad was good, though. Solid C- overall.

3) Just before tip-off, I was walking around the tunnel that goes under the stands and I crossed paths with the Nets dance team, who were — I swear — all wearing school girl outfits. Also, this may have been a dream.
4) There’s something funny about seeing Joey Crawford running sprints before the game starts as “Walk It Out” blares on the PA system.

5) As the Nets came out for player introductions, fireworks shot out from above the baskets and confetti rained down from the ceiling. But the arena was about 2/3 full, to see the first-place team in the Atlantic Division take on a team that won the Western Conference the year before and was on a 12 of 13 game streak.

6) The Mavs start with Devin Harris guarding Vince, which is easily the most glaring mismatch on the floor. The Nets don’t seem to recognize this and don’t try to get Vince the ball with any regularity. When they finally start posting Vince and going to him over and over, the Mavs show a double team each time and Vince keeps kicking it out to an open Nenad Krstic, who keeps bricking jumpers. Meanwhile, Dallas is sharing the ball and making jumpers and they jump ahead 8-2.

7) Sam wonders if this is this the shortest coaching matchup in the NBA?

8) Almost forgot, I saw the Dallas scouting report for the Nets in a Mavs player’s locker, and it described Jason Kidd as a “capable” shooter. They must’ve known I was going to be poking around in there.

9) The afore-mentioned Nets Dance Team is introduced, and as they run out onto the court and start to assemble, wearing their schoolgirl outfits, Sam asks, with a slightly desperate tone, “Which way are they going be facing?”

10) The Nets Dance Team is sponsored by something called “House of Dereon.” That rang a bell, so I looked it up when I got home and…sure enough! Jigga isn’t wasting any connections.

11) Six minutes in, Kidd is replaced with Marcus Williams, and the Nets run a two-man game with Williams and Jason Collins, a.k.a. Collins The Greater. I write in my notebook: “Wow.”

12) In their halfcourt offense, Devin Harris is the Mavs’ fifth option, and he basically stands around and shoots open jumpers when the Mavs swing the ball to him as the shot clock is ticking down. I know Devin is helpful defensively, but imagine if the Mavs had Steve Kerr or Craig Hodges out there to nail wide open threes.

13) Krstic catches a ball at the free throw line and tries to drive in, and Dampier slaps him hard across both wrists, knocking the ball loose. I’m sitting about 30 feet from the play and can hear the slap clearly. Sean Corbin doesn’t call anything, and the Mavs scoop up the ball and go down for a lay-in. Oddly, nobody in the crowd puts up much of an argument.

14) After one quarter, the Mavs are up 21-14, with 11 points from Josh Howard on 5-of-7 shooting. The Nets seem to have no energy or anxiousness.

15) Between quarters, Nets mascot Sly comes out and tries to dunk off a trampoline. He ends the routine by missing a somersault dunk, and then he tries once more and misses it again. The crowd finally comes to life and boos him.

16) There was a note recently in the Newark Star-Ledger about Marcus Williams shooting more than he’s been passing of late, and about how Vince in particular didn’t seem to be happy about this. Well, early in the second quarter, the Nets were working the ball around the perimeter and Vince was standing all alone in the corner, waiting patiently for the ball to be swung around to him. The guy to Vince’s right, up at the top of the key, was Marcus. As the ball started coming to Marcus but before he even had his hands on it, Vince screamed, “Swing it!” at him, as if to warn him that he better swing that damn ball to him. He did. Vince missed the shot.

17) The Mavericks are playing so well right now that their offense looks almost unstoppable. Everything still goes through Dirk, but almost every shot they’re getting is a wide open jumper or a lay-up, which I guess to some degree explains their recent streak. Watch them play on TNT Thursday night — their spacing, their pacing, their ball movement, it’s all nearly perfect and it looks so easy. And it doesn’t hurt that Erick Dampier is leading the NBA in field goal percentage right now.

18) I think that every game I’ve ever been to where he’s played, Anthony Johnson has shot an airball three-pointer.

19) 2:46 left in the half, and the Nets can’t make a shot to save their lives. Kidd drives the lane and gets his shot swatted by Dampier. The ball rolls out to Collins The Greater, who is standing along the baseline, and he throws up a jump shot so far off line that it goes behind the backboard on the fly. That’s almost impossible to do.

20) 1:35 left in the half and Lawrence Frank gets T’d up by Sean Corbin. Not going to be a fun halftime in the Nets locker room.

21) Just before the half, Greg Buckner checks in with his shirt untucked and the Mavs are given a delay of game warning. I can see steam coming out of Cuban’s ears from across the court.

22) Mavs up 47-35 at the half. Jersey’s shooting 28 percent from the floor, 14.3 percent on threes. Oddly, even though they came in and out on completely different rotations, Kidd and Vince each played exactly 18 minutes and 21 seconds in the first half.

23) More of the same in the third. Highlight of the first six minutes is the Continental Airlines shooting contest, where a person from the crowd is brought out to shoot from different spots with a chance of winning a trip to various cities. Tonight the guy is a dead-eye, and he wins trips to Rio de Janeiro, Stockholm and Berlin. He takes a halfcourt shot for a trip to Beijing but it just rims out.

24) Why isn’t Vince going at Devin Harris in the post on every possession? Some things we’ll never know.

25) The Nets finally find a spark in the second half of the third when Mikki Moore comes in and goes buckwild. He’s active, running the floor, making things happen, and the Nets cut the lead.

26) Highlight of the game comes when ref Joey Crawford walks over to the baseline for an inbounds play, just a few yards away from us, and he turns to someone in the front row of the stands and gives them a glare. He then gets a security person’s attention and loudly says, “If this guy says any more I want him out of here!” Meanwhile, all the players are kind of standing around, waiting to see what’s going to happen. Anthony Johnson is the inbounds guy, standing by Crawford, and he nervously tucks in his jersey about 25 times while this is happening. Moments later, Crawford spins around again and says, “That’s it, get him out of here!” It takes a few seconds, but they escort the guy out.

27) After the game, NBA discipline underboss Stu Jackson issued this statement about the incident: “Joey first motioned to the security guard to escort the guy off of the court, and he was coming up onto the floor. When security was ready to tell the fan [to] get off the court and give him a warning, the fan then used repeated profanity directed at the official. At that point, the fan was removed.”

28) I wasn’t near enough to hear what was said by the fans, but a player who was nearby during all of this told me later that the guy had been riding Crawford all night, and after Crawford issued his warning, the guy said, “Hey Joey, maybe you should pay for my ticket.” And that’s when Crawford threw him out. Doesn’t sound like profanity to me, but maybe the player cleaned it up for this family publication. Someone else who was near this exchange thinks Crawford may have confused a few of the fans.

29) The Mikki Moore Experience continues. On one play there’s a loose ball rolling down the floor, and Dirk and Mikki engage in a completely unfair footrace for the ball. Moore out-hustles Dirk, grabs the ball and gets it to Antoine Wright, who’s fouled by Dirk. The fans cheer and stand. I look over to the Nets bench, wondering which players will be leading the inevitable cheering section. The answer? None of them.

30) During the next time out, a member of the Nets’ spirit squad gets shaken up, delaying the restart. Weird night.

31) Just when it looked like the Nets were going to get close enough to tie this thing up, they fall apart (throwing up a few more airballs) and the Mavs blow it open, so much so that both coaches empty the benches with two minutes left. On one play, the Mavs isolate Austin Croshere against Hassan Adams. I wonder if one year ago, either of these guys ever thought they’d be isolated against the other guy?

32) Dallas wins 92-75. Dirk only made 8 field goals but he finished with 26 and 13. Josh Howard had 15 in the first half and finished with 23. The Nets were led by Vince’s 20, but Krstic totalled 18 and 12, taking one less shot than Vince.

33) Postgame, Avery Johnson says he liked the Mavs defensive effort because “our energy defensively was pretty good” and the team was “pretty active.” Because of his funky accent, it sounds hilarious when he talks about how “it was quiet on the bus during our journey here.” He also notes that Josh Howard was talking during the timeouts and he says this like it’s surprising, so I’m guessing Josh isn’t quite the leader they want him to be just yet.

34) In their locker room, the Mavs get dressed slowly and talk to the media. Mark Cuban is hanging around and gets swamped. A writer from a Dallas paper asks Cuban about David Stern backtracking on the new ball, and with a straight face Cuban says, “At David Stern University we’re taught that sometimes you have to re-evaluate. It’s a sign of leadership and strength to be able to recognize there might be a better alternative. I give him tons of credit. Now, we just have to re-evaluate the owners in a huddle rule.”

35) On my way out, I bump into Dirk Nowitzki’s personal shooting guru Holger Geschwinder, one of my favorite interviews of all time. Holger’s following the Mavs around and doing some work with Dirk. I told Holger I didn’t think the Mavs needed much work right now, and he smiled and nodded, though I know down deep inside he was probably cursing my miniscule basketball knowledge in German.